Toronto

As prices soar, home co-ownership is on the rise. This GTA house is a decades-old success story

As soaring real estate prices in the GTA lock more and more people out of the market, co-ownership of homes has become an increasingly enticing option for many would-be buyers.

Province released new guidelines for would-be buyers looking to co-own a home

About 20 years ago, Cheryl Bradbee decided she had enough of renting. Along with two friends, the adjunct teacher at Ryerson University and Humber College helped design and build this eco-friendly, co-living home on Meadow Wood Road. (Submitted by Forest Hill Downtown Real Estate)

As soaring real estate prices in the GTA lock more and more people out of the market, co-ownership of homes has become an increasingly enticing option for many would-be buyers.

But one home is Mississauga was decades ahead of the trend.

About 20 years ago, Cheryl Bradbee decided she'd had enough of renting. She wanted the financial security that comes with home ownership and a deeper sense of community.

Along with two friends, the adjunct teacher at Ryerson University and Humber College helped design and build an eco-friendly, co-living home on Meadow Wood Road.

"We were three single women and we decided not to wait for a prince on a white horse. And we wanted to get into the market, to have equity," she told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Friday.

A renowned eco-house made of straw bales was designed to be a co-ownership property in Mississauga 20 years ago, by Cheryl Bradbee and two friends. Cheryl explains why they commissioned the home, how they navigated between private and communal space, and the many advantages of co-ownership that they discovered. 7:11

The straw-bale house has what are known as European biowalls: no moisture barrier inside the first-floor walls allow fresh air to cycle through the residence. There are photovoltaic cells on the roof to convert sunlight into energy, a battery bank in the basement and a diverse garden surrounds the property.

The home also has a shared kitchen, living space and three suites for each co-owner offer a good deal of privacy whenever its desired.

The experience turned Bradbee into a co-housing evangelist. 

"Whether your live with family or roommates, generally you don't want to be alone. I know I don't want to be alone all the time. So it provides that kind of shared space," she said.

Her house has become a kind of Mississauga landmark. And as people desperately look for creative ways to break into the current housing market, co-housing is quickly emerging as a viable option.

This week, the provincial government released a set of guidelines to help prospective buyers navigate the complicated process of financing a property and living under the same roof as other unrelated owners.

'It's no surprise'

Lesli Gaynor helped consult on the new guidelines. She's an agent with Forest Hill Downtown Real Estate and owner of GoCo Solutions, a company dedicated to helping people get into co-owned homes in the GTA.

Bradbee recently bought-out her friends and is selling her formerly co-owned space. It's listed for more than $2.5-million. (Submitted by Forest Hill Downtown Real Estate)

Gaynor says she's approached about two times a week by those interested in discussing co-ownership. 

"As prices rise and it becomes more and more difficult to stay in your neighbourhoods, co-ownership will become more and more prevalent," she said.

The province has released a co-ownership guideline for homes, laying out how to create a legal contract between co-owners, how to finance properties, and what paperwork is required. Leslie Gaynor is a real estate agent in Toronto who has many clients who are co-owners. She says that lending, zoning, and changing real estate laws are the systemic changes we need to see happen to make co-ownership more doable. 8:34

"It's no surprise. People are shut out of this market. So it's one way to at least give them a hope that they might be able to get into the market by combining resources."

Gaynor serves a diverse client base, including young families hoping to reduce expenses by sharing child care and seniors looking to stave off loneliness and take care of one another.

She believes that co-ownership will "explode" in popularity once Canadian financial institutions come to see the value of lending to would-be buyers trying to own a piece of a property.

The province's new guidelines are a "good start" she says, but other incentives would help. Zoning, assistance with the cost of retrofitting single-family homes into spaces for co-owners and credits for sustainable living are all good ideas, Gaynor says.

There are also legal challenges.

"The biggest challenge is the exit plans. Getting in is not as difficult as getting out," she said.

'Take the leap'

Bradbee and her friends established a legal contract and stuck to a strict policy of "consensus decision making."

She recently bought out her friends and is selling her formerly co-owned space. It's listed for more than $2.5-million.

But Bradbee won't sell to just anybody.

"I want someone who is going to love it and carry on the legacy."

As for those would-be buyers hesitant about the prospect of co-ownership?

"Honestly, just take the leap," she says.

With files from Metro Morning

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